This Is My Brain on Boys - Sarah Strohmeyer Page 0,1

a controlled crash.” To illustrate, Addie plunged her hand through the air between them. “One gust of wind shear and we’re toast!”

And Tommy started crying all over again.

11B pulled out an earbud and murmured, “Nice going.”

“You can do better?” she asked.

“Probably anyone could.” He tapped Tommy on the shoulder. “Hey, little dude, you want to see something neat?” He pulled out a set of keys attached to an unusual object—a large brown scorpion encased in acrylic.

Repulsive, Addie thought. Taking a creature of nature and turning it into a tchotchke.

“What is that?” Tommy asked.

11B said, “You tell me.”

“A spider?”

“Nope. Close, though.”

“A tarantula?”

“A tarantula is a spider,” Addie said. “Obvi.”

11B flashed her a quizzical half grin. “Thank you, Bill Nye the Science Guy. However, next time let’s remember to raise our hands.” Turning back to the boy, he said, “Here’s a hint. It lives in the desert and there’s a stinger at the end of its tail.”

Addie raised her hand. 11B paid no attention, even when she flapped it and said, “I know, I know.”

Tommy took the key chain, being mindful to pinch the one corner absent a leg. “Is it a . . . scorpion?”

11B shot him a finger. “Bingo. This one’s a Manchurian scorpion I brought back from China. They eat them there, you know. On a stick!”

Mesobuthus martensii, Addie thought, fighting the temptation to inform them of the venom’s fascinating use by Eastern physicians to treat neurological disorders such as paralysis and chronic pain and its untapped potential to cure forms of cancer.

The boy gazed at the dead bug with fresh awe. “I’ve never seen one up close before.”

“You can keep it,” 11B said kindly, smiling at the boy’s stunned expression.

“No way!”

“Sure. It’s good luck, you know.”

“It is?”

Even though Addie was impressed, even touched, by 11B’s easy generosity, she had to scoff at the silly notion of a lucky charm. Like “luck” was even a thing. She was about to put paid to this silly superstition when she felt a distinct pressure on her toe and looked down to see 11B’s black sneakered foot pressing on hers—hard.

“What do you say?” the mother prompted.

“Thank you!” the boy gushed.

“Yes, thank you,” the mother repeated with relief, handing the keys to 11B. “That was extremely thoughtful. He’s totally forgotten . . . everything.” She pointedly looked at Addie, as if somehow her mentioning the chances of dying at the beginning and end of flights had been inappropriate, when she’d only been stating facts.

“No problem,” 11B said, handing back the freed scorpion. “To be honest, I’m not big on carrying around dead animals, even if they are scorpions, but I bet it’ll keep Tommy busy.” The two of them stared adoringly at Tommy, who was busy flipping the key chain over and over, inspecting every detail.

Addie sighed. It was extremely awkward to be stuck in the middle of a conversation when you were trying to comprehend Neuroscience Today’s exclusive on the untold secrets of dopamine.

“Do you want to switch seats?” she asked 11B.

He shook his head. “Nah. My work here is done.” He sat back and untangled his earbuds, which wasn’t easy as, in attempting to begin its early descent, the plane had begun listing from side to side.

She resumed reading and managed to get through one whole paragraph before she heard shallow panting, a telltale sign of hyperventilation. Her diagnosis was further confirmed by a cursory visual examination of 11B’s hand.

“That twitch,” she asked, gingerly touching the muscle at the base of his thumb, scientifically referred to as the opponens pollicis, “did that just start?”

“Huh?” He pulled out the right earbud.

She brushed her finger along the fleshy mound. It pulsed. “See?”

He rotated his wrist, examining the situation. “Not sure.”

The plane plummeted yet again, eliciting another round of gasps from the passengers. 11A grabbed the white barf bag from the middle seat and heaved.

Kinetosis. When the inner ear and optic nerve send mixed signals to the brain, prompting the brain to assume, weirdly enough, that the body is being poisoned . . . whereupon it orders the stomach to empty its contents. Fascinating.

11B flinched at the muscle spasm. “Should I be worried?”

He sounded concerned. Addie assessed his other symptoms. Faint perspiration on his upper lip and above his heavy dark brows. Dilated pupils in his large brown eyes. A bluish tinge at the base of his nails. Well, that ruled out her two prior assumptions about him being unfazed by the turbulence.

“Are you dizzy?” she asked, circling his wrist to take his pulse.